Youth Man – Five Songs (EP Review)

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Youth Man have been away for a little while, lost a member, signed to Alcopop! and now they are back with a belting five song EP. The title and cover offer no insight into what’s to expect and those expecting another slice of furious angular punk are in for both a treat and a surprise.

With haunting guitar and a fragile vocal this EP starts on a surprisingly gentle tone for a band famed for their intensity. With the deepest of bass lines and crashing drums moving in and out of post punk styled spoken vocal, the EP properly starts with some of that aforementioned intensity – the balance between spoken word and vocal is sharp and follows the guitar lines effortlessly. The first ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moment comes in a subtle break down which sees angular guitars and Kaila Whyte’s vocals build a layered sense of theatre, before a dark spoken word ending.

‘Valley Girl’ shows Youth Man can still write underground songs with huge singalong choruses. This is a song that lies somewhere between noughties era punk, indie and surf punk. The chorus is rousing, the guitar line has a toe tapping hook and the vocal is a fine mix of visceral snarl and infectiousness. As the bass lowers and beachy drums build into a crashing crescendo, there is a moment of pure Stooges like creativity which leads effortlessly to an explosive end.

As songs fade together, ‘Constantly’ opens with a vocal that combines smoothness and a haunting tone beautifully. This is combined with an almost abrasive bass line which rumbles beneath the entire song creating a sense of distortion but also giving the guitar something to follow and compete with. Within the first chorus – ‘constantly, constantly, constantly, constantly grinding my gears, grinding my gears’ – there is a very deliberate level of repetition, with every chorus seeming a tiny bit louder than the last. This repetition creates an almost claustrophobic feel when combined with the angular guitar and that abrasive bass line. The climax of the track is the brashest moment of the entire release.

The sparse Minute Men style opening to ‘I Don’t Know’ subtly hits a Rival Schools style guitar and deep bass combo before taking on a life of its own. This is maybe the stand out of a very strong EP, the musicianship is tight with each part effortlessly slotting into each other. The intensity of the vocal is amplified every time the chorus progresses from emotive talking to instinctual howl, under which lies a sharp harmony. The finale is a work of genius; each layer is gently stripped back leaving an intense two part harmony. There is once more a haunting factor to this, the balance between loud and quiet intensity here is utterly sublime.

The intensity continues with rolling bass and a vocal delicately leading into another huge chorus, ‘Statuesque’ is a well-considered slice of angular punk. The interplay between musicianship and vocal delivery is near perfect with gang vocals used at all the moments the driving guitar and bass have a chance of overshadowing the powerful vocal. The ending is brave and sudden, leaving this EP to finish instantly much like awaking from a doze.

Overall this is a clever release with a real ebb and flow, even including dramatic endings, these songs mould together into a cohesive ‘one’. The lyrical themes; self-doubt, frustration, love and isolation, fit so perfectly within a vocal that combines the strength of grunge and punk with fragility and emotion. There are similarities to an incredibly vast selection of artists; the intensity of Mika Miko, Bikini Kill or Hole, to the sunshine drumming of Vivian Girls or Descendents. It’s these combinations that make this release sound truly individual.

This is a sharp witty EP and shows Youth Man continue to move in new directions without ever turning their back on the highs of their previous works.

Five Songs is out on June 29th via Alcopop!